Story by Laura Palimisano

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Issues with the online federal marketplace, healthcare.gov are causing problems for the state’s Medicaid enrollment site.

Arizona expanded its Medicaid program, known as AHCCCS, under the Affordable Care Act. People seeking to enroll in AHCCCS can apply for it using the online tool Health-e-Arizona Plus.

Allen Gjersvig, with the Arizona Alliance for Community Health Centers, said since Oct. 1, health centers trying to screen and enroll people for AHCCCS have run into problems, because healthcare.gov and the AHCCCS portal systems are supposed to work together.

"The design of Health-e-Arizona Plus is to handoff information to healthcare.gov because if someone screens eligible for the marketplace a file of information would be sent to healthcare.gov, and then the consumer can switch over to that site, pick up the information, and not have to reenter everything that they already entered,” Gjersvig said.

The marketplace is also supposed to direct people who qualify for AHCCCS to Health-e-Arizona Plus, but that handoff is not working, Gjersvig said.

He said he’s not sure when it will be working, but said he hopes it will be operating normally by the end of the month.

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Luis Elias, a patient navigator with St. Elizabeth's Health Center, helps guide patients through the application process. He said technical problems with the federal site have made it difficult to do his job.

"You could get to, maybe, a couple number of pages on the website, in the application process, and it would freeze," Elias said.

He is helping patients to fill out paper applications in lieu of enrolling electronically.

First, individuals who wish to enroll in an insurance plan, must prove they qualify. With a paper application, it can take weeks for someone to get confirmation that they can proceed to the next step of actually selecting a policy.

Once they have confirmation, applicants then have to research their options and chose the plan that best fits their circumstances. This adds more time to the process.

One new option for residents is a type of insurance coverage made possible under the Affordable Care Act: the health co-op. And only one co-op, Meritus Health Partners, exists in Arizona.

"It is member governed," said Kathleen Oestreich, CEO of Meritus. "So ,the board of directors will have the majority of seats held by members. And, the excess revenues are returned to the member in the form of benefits and improved services or premium control."